NHL Playoff Beard – A ritual for our times?
What is up with the NHL Playoff Beards anyways? As a person whose life and work is centred around ritual, I simply have to know!
Now I don’t know much about hockey. Actually my friends say I have minus 5 interest in it. But I do know that the run for the Stanley Cup is a Rite of Passage of sorts for the players. If you know Joseph Campbell’s work on the Heroes Journey, you might see some parallels. No, it’s not like getting married or becoming a parent, but Playoff Hockey heralds a primal and seemingly universal call for many men and women.
My exploration of Playoff Beard as the ‘rite’ in the Rite of Passage began with “The one who wears a hockey jersey around the house and cannot cook, clean, or wash dishes until the playoffs are over.”
He didn’t know why ‘his’ team did it and nor did anyone else I polled. Answers ranged from, “It’s this thing they do.” “They always do it.” “Allows them to focus on what’s really important.” “Players have enough to worry about already.” “I’m not sure, but it seems to give them strength.” “If they shave their beard, they will lose for sure.”
Not a single person — hockey fan or otherwise, bearded or not — knew the origin of why hockey players stop shaving and grow a beard when their team enters the playoffs. The only thing Vancouverites were sure of was that the sucker comes off only when its owner’s team is eliminated from the playoffs or better yet WINS the Stanley Cup.
And that’s one of the things about rites of passage rituals in our society today — much of our ritual behaviour is totally unconscious. We don’t know why we do it. We just do. And it feels important somehow. Much like food blessings and unity candles… I wondered does Playoff Beard actually have any deeper meaning or resonance to those who enact it?
Now, as a Celebrant and ceremonial storyteller, I don’t believe I’ll be interviewing Vancouver Canuck player Ryan Kesler anytime soon on the subject. But let’s look a little more deeply at what I found.
Amazingly there is a ton of info on Wikipedia on Playoff Beard. Apparently this ritual was initiated by the New York Islanders in the hirsute 80′s. It spread quickly and widely to nearly all North American hockey teams, though there is variety in precisely how the ritual is manifested. Vancouver Canuck Roberto Luongo is said to trim his slightly after a loss to shift the energy to a win the next game. Some teams dye their hair blonde, some dye it black.
In the name of research I did a search of photos of playoff beards. Not a bad way to spend an hour (or two!) Ya gotta chuckle at some of these guys. The beards range from peach fuzz to the incredibly lush. I had no idea what was humanly possible in such a short time!
It isn’t just NHL players who do it. University teams, amateur teams, high school, and minor leagues do the beard thing too. It hasn’t hit the pee-wee leagues yet. The craze has spread to teams in Europe. And now it’s not just hockey. Baseball, basketball, volleyball players are in on the act too. If there’s a group of guys playing a competitive sport…
The thing that’s interesting to me is that after two hours on the internet, nowhere could I find the underlying WHY. Yeah, so it’s a good luck charm, but WHY? Why and how did those New York Rangers come up with the rite? If any of my readers know more about this mysterious tribal ritual — please share your comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
If you want to join in the fun, you better get with it. Fans do Playoff Beard too. Some of them even sport Playoff mullets. Oh my.
And if you want to look like the guy in the photo, the super cute website Beardo will sell you a cap and beard (in a variety of colour combos). I might have to get one!
by Celebrant Michele Davidson
NHL Hockey Beard | Playoff Beard